Some say it’s politically incorrect to use the phrase “third-world country” but let’s face it, it’s a lot more powerful than “developing nation.” Why? Because there is no second-world countries, you jump from first-world, to third-world…and man, it can be a cavernous jump. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia link says the term is embraced by many third-world countries.)
Anyway, I live in a no-doubt-about-it third-world country, Mexico. When you first move to a third-world country, even if you’re only middle-class back in your home country, you’ll initially deal with guilt about having money. Simply because you have some. But, later, as time passes, you get over it. Instead of guilt, you feel exhaustion. (Emotion #3,245 in the culture shock roller-coaster ride? Perhaps.) You start to learn catch-phrases to deal with people who want your money: “No tengo cambio.”
I’ve decided there are two things that really evoke the phrase “third-world.”
1. The gap between rich and poor is bat-shit insane. Ex: Gym memberships in Mexico City are entirely for the upper-class. Why? Because just joining one costs the equivalent of U.S. $1,500. And because you’re not poor, you’re rich…(just like if you’re not from the third-world, you’re from the first).
2. Anytime you sit in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant, or spend time on the beach, you are constantly approached by people playing bad music, selling crap trinkets or trying to earn money for “charities” (meaning they hand you a slip of paper with some bull-shit written on it, and expect you to hand over money). When I say constant, I mean constant. Visitors, take heed: Although the weather is perfect in Mexico City, you’ll have a much better time if you sit inside a restaurant, away from the poverty parade.
Yep, I’m a bit bitter today. I had lunch with a friend today, at the restaurant only a few steps from my house. It was a lovely afternoon, and it’s a rare treat for me to have lunch outside of my apartment. First vendor: Charity vendor with fliers. Second vendor: Accordion player. Third vendor: Charity vendor with fliers. Fourth vendor: Dude selling boxing gloves (?). Fifth vendor: Another musician, playing a really bad harmonica song. Sixth vendor(s): Teens selling church charity lies, with enough audacity to ask for my left-overs after I caved and gave them money. Seventh vendor: Teen raising money for AIDS group, and he actually seemed legitimate. Eight vendor: Italian accordion player, who chased us down as were already walking away from the restaurant with his hat out, ready for money.
(Update: I stand a bit corrected on the no-second-world thing…According to Wikipedia, there used to be several second-world countries, notably the former Soviet states and China during the Cold War.
Also, I was angry when I wrote this. And then later, I thought about how pouty I sounded, but seriously, this is the reality of culture shock Mexico-style: dealing with huge gaps in economics and a tiny middle-class.)